As I watched the shuttle Endeavor streak into space today, there was a touch of sadness that I would never get to witness this amazing event again. (There is one more shuttle, but it's now scheduled for July when I will be away.) There was also a touch of awe when I consider the sheer audacity of this program. On space travel in general. I pictured those men, sitting atop a gazillion gallons of fuel, confident in their ability to harness the raw power of those rockets and ride that machine to the space station and back. it must take a special kind of courage, especially those first launches, but even the ones that happen today. The rest of the world probably takes it for granted, especially the younger generations who don't remember the first sub-orbital launch, or the disasters of the Apollo program. What courage it must have taken for the men of Apollo 7 after their fellow astronauts had died in a test, or for the crew of the flight that followed the explosion of the Challenger. Somehow, we take it all for granted today, but it must still take an enormous amount of courage and faith. So, with those thoughts in mind, I watched the fiery streak in the bright morning sky, said a prayer for the crew and was awed all over again.
But then I remembered the less awesome facts. That this is the end of an era. I realize that the end began with Bush who was more interested in Mars and a return to the Moon. I also know that Obama at least gives lip service to exploration of Mars, but is that the whole reason the shuttles will end? We are in a serious bind financially and an argument can be made for the fact that it will be cheaper to send our astronauts to the space station aboard a Soyuz rocket, but the cost is still $63 million - that's 63 million US dollars going into Russian pockets instead of American ones. How many jobs will be lost? Not just the NASA crews, but the all the technicians, the computer people, backup support, dietitians, doctors, the people who sweep the floors and clean the toilets in Florida and Houston, but all the businesses that have grown up around the NASA complexes, the restaurants, the hotels, the 7-11 stores, gas stations, housing developers, you name it, the list is endless. How many of those people are going to find themselves out of work while we pay the Russians $63 million to send our men into space?
The other distressing thought that occurs to me is that we will no longer have direct access to the space station we have spent trillions of dollars to build. Can we be absolutely guaranteed that the Russian Bear will never view this as their opportunity to regain their dominance on earth by turning away from peaceful exploration and turning the space station into a platform of war.
I will admit, I don't have all the facts, nor do I understand all the ramifications of this decision, but to this observer at least, ending the shuttle program seems to be a poorly thought out plan. I will miss watching the intrepid NASA fliers blast off into space from Cape Kennedy, but I will miss even more the idea that America was the leader here for so long and is no longer.